How to Choose Where to Build Your Custom Home

May 31, 2024 - By Hayden Outdoors

Kevin Brunk lives in a pretty perfect pocket of California. Born and raised in the north central part of the state, he’s within striking distance of world-class skiing and recreation, the Pacific’s beautiful coastline, and some of the most renowned vineyards on the planet. In his words, “I grew up on the toe of the slope of the west side of the Sierra Nevada. I’ve always been of the land and a great appreciator of what’s provided for us in the outdoor space.” 

Maybe it’s a lifetime spent exploring outside, noticing all of nature’s aspects, that set Kevin up so well for his career. Or possibly it’s his background as a land use planner and architect that was part of his previous career path. His passion sits at the center of an architecture-construction-design Venn diagram. From this unique vantage point, he can look at raw land and quickly establish a vision for it with input from and on behalf of his clients. “I help clients understand the possibilities of properties they’re looking to buy.” Kevin has been with Hayden Outdoors for a handful of years now, capitalizing on his background to help buyers and sellers establish their own vision for vacant land, maximizing light, space, materials, and resources to create a home or facility that fulfills whatever the end goal might be. 

Recently, Kevin offered his insights into the benefits of custom home building, and working with someone who can make the most of your property.

Benefits of Building a “Custom Property”

The biggest benefit of building a custom property is just that – customizing it to fit your needs and lifestyle. As Kevin puts it, “Custom building allows you to master plan everything from beginning to end, and that includes phases over time. A master plan can span five, 10, 15 years, or longer. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing in one day.” This 30,000-foot view of your project lets you establish milestones over the course of the buildout, including exterior spaces, outbuildings, and landscaping. 

It’s important to consider your timeframe when designing a custom build. Doing so will help you establish long-term equity on untouched property. Whether your vision is to build a generational legacy property for family members to enjoy for decades or a shorter-term home you plan to sell in five years or less, designing for the end goal helps you save time and money and maximize the overall value of the home and the land. 


Sun set over distant fog bank casts golden glow over beautiful landscape in the Marin Headlands


Researching Potential Locations

When it’s time to take your dreams from simply scrolling through online listings to making an offer on the ideal piece of vacant land, Kevin encourages buyers to take the following key steps:

Explore different zoning uses.

“Get to know your local zoning [laws]. Learn about what the zoning and allowed uses are on your property, as well as… other things you can do on your property [that] can require a conditional use permit.” Understanding the zoning laws in your area helps ensure you don’t run into any surprises after you’ve purchased your property. Keep in mind that building something in the grey area of what is allowed might require a longer approval process. Also, zoning codes and regulations will stipulate how many structures, homes, ADUs, and outbuildings you can build. Finally, the zoning laws apply to your property and to your neighbors, so make sure to consider what landowners bordering your property are able to do with theirs. 

Evaluate amenities and facilities.

Before you put pen to paper on those closing documents, spend some time looking at any current improvements, amenities and facilities. These can include structures currently on the land, or amenities offered by a community HOA or other organization, such as walking trails, pools and fitness facilities, equine barns and pens, golf features, and more. 

Assess accessibility and commute.

While that picturesque piece of land miles from town might seem like the ideal spot to build your dream custom home, make sure you’re comfortable with accessing the property and any required commute to and from the closest resources and facilities, such as hospitals, grocery stores, shopping, and entertainment. If you’re looking to build a life-long home, consider how these property characteristics might impact your lifestyle and security over time. 


Assessing the Natural Environment

Another notable benefit of working with a custom home designer and builder? Consideration for how your home will interact with the natural environment. Kevin’s decades of experience immediately shine through when speaking to this point. “You want to consider topography, weather patterns, and wildlife. I like to look at the benefits and challenges the sun can provide, including shade, natural light, and solar [impact and] energy. How do you want your rooms, entryways, and windows to be oriented? Regarding your region’s climate and weather patterns, where does the snow [or rain] blow in? Are you going to be able to get into your home or out of the barn during a blizzard? Prevailing winds and existing tree cover and how those trees shade the house from the sun and other natural elements are also important.” 

These are some of the types of considerations a designer like Kevin can immediately see when looking at raw land – an invaluable resource when it comes to building in a place and in a way that will make the most of the natural surroundings. 



Factor in Budget and Cost of Living

When Kevin is consulting with clients on the most important considerations of designing and building a custom home, he doesn’t hesitate to highlight the two key driving forces behind any project: “Budget and timeline (and then I say it again!).” Analyzing construction costs is essential to a successful custom home build project. Establishing a realistic and attainable budget and timeline prior to breaking ground helps keep you on track and avoid major pitfalls or overages. And it’s not just the house you need to consider. “The overall budget is not just the home. It goes well beyond that, extending to the furnishings, exterior space, landscape design, and everything that goes into preparing for the build.” 

Utility expenses are another big – but frequently overlooked – home building expense, especially if you’re building in a more rural area. This is where Kevin’s experience as a builder, recreational real estate professional, and architect comes in. “If you’re working with a quality and knowledgeable real estate professional, they should be familiar with the process of assessing utilities.” Similar to working with the county on your zoning regulations, reach out to your local utility companies to make sure everything is where it needs to be. Kevin continues, “I don’t recommend assuming that just because you’re buying a piece of property that fronts a roadway or right of way, you already have utilities [in place and ready].” 


Understanding Local Regulations and Zoning Laws

Again, investing some time with your local county planning department can save you massive headaches after you’ve begun building. “I’ve done quite a bit of work with county planning departments, not only in my current role as a custom home builder and real estate agent, but also when I was practicing architecture. Just about every planner out there would much rather have you come spend some time with them up front and really understand… your vision for the project.” 

Some things county planning and building departments can help you navigate as you design your custom home build include:

  • Local building codes
  • Square footage allowances and restrictions
  • Zone restrictions
  • Permitting processes

“Not everybody thinks working with the county is fun, but it’s a part of the overall process. I consider them a part of the team when I’m working on a custom [project]. I recommend getting to know them and spending time with them up front, because it’s going to pay off in the end.”


A new construction home being framed on a hillside with a view


Understanding Your Needs and Lifestyle

Transferring your daydream custom home to the reality of construction plans and architectural renderings can be overwhelming. Again, this is where a design professional can really help you bring your vision to life. Here are a few examples of custom home design essentials Kevin recommends discussing with your architect, builder, or designer: 

  • How much space do you want to dedicate to living spaces versus bedroom spaces or entertainment areas?
  • The proximity of the kitchen to different indoor and outdoor spaces around the house.
  • Light exposure, sun exposure, and orientation to weather and views
  • The flow of interior spaces to exterior spaces
  • Natural and custom landscaping
  • Exterior recreational features, such as outbuildings, hunting facilities, gun ranges, ponds, pools, walkways, paths and courts

Additionally, it’s important to think about how the design choices you make now will affect your home’s equity over time and how you’ll be able to use the house in years to come. If the home is a short-term investment, these considerations are less personal (but certainly no less important to potential buyers). However, a long-term custom home should account for lifestyle changes as the years come and go, such as expanding families and accessibility. 


Understanding Infrastructure and Utilities

Unless you aim to live off the grid, utilities and necessary infrastructure are key elements of your custom home build. Talk with your design and real estate professional about water, sewer, and electricity access. The farther from an established community you build, the harder – and more expensive – it will be to get these utilities to your property. 

While not as necessary as water, sewer, and electrical, internet and telecommunications access are also important. As technology changes, there are more and more opportunities for telecommunications access, including satellite internet. Whatever you decide, just make sure your property is within reach of the utilities you need to be comfortable and successful. This has become increasingly critical in recent years as more and more people work from home or work remotely. 

Finally, consider transportation infrastructure as part of your overall custom home build. If you need to put in roads, widen an existing driveway, or extend established transportation access, you need to make sure to include this in your overall building budget. 



Assessing Resale Value and Market Trends

Custom home builds are just that – highly customized to your needs and style. But when it comes to the latest social media home building fads and design crazes, Kevin waves a flag of caution. “Trends are, by definition, trendy. Within five years, you can almost pinpoint when a home was built if the designer, client, and builder chose to incorporate the latest trend.” He recommends steering clear of anything that feels a little too of-the-moment and instead opting for timelessness and quality. “Flavor-of-the-month designs can become dated very quickly and look tired, so my own perspective is to look at quality design and finishes that have withstood the test of time.” Not sure where to look? Kevin recommends going back decades and identifying design elements we still turn to today. Custom home architects and designers can help you identify timelessness over trends.

Opting for longer-term design elements can help your home retain its resale value over time. “Sellers typically don’t want to have to tear out a kitchen or completely redo a homesite 10 years after the home was built.” 


Consulting with Real Estate Professionals

Like his dedicated team members at Hayden Outdoors, Kevin approaches his work as a custom home designer, builder, and real estate professional as a partnership. To him, real estate isn’t just transactional; it’s an investment in his clients’ personal, homeownership and property goals, many of which span hundreds of acres and multiple generations. “A highly trained and experienced real estate professional has an understanding of end land use and development. This can really make a difference in choosing a partner in this process. I discourage people from going with a brokerage on brand name alone. When choosing a real estate professional, turn to a person or an agency with a proven track record of locating and purchasing land for a custom home.”

It’s an important point. “Just like I don’t recommend going to a quickie oil change place to get a transmission rebuilt, I also don’t recommend going with the status quo to help you locate, negotiate, and purchase [farm, ranch or] recreational real estate.”  



To wrap up, Kevin reiterates one of his key points when bringing your dream home to life, “Managing expectations is a huge part of building custom. I’m a big fan of having a complete project. I believe in the design principle of trying to keep everything at the same level of quality and completion.” 

His clients come to know Kevin as a visionary – someone who can combine custom home design with the beauty and potential of raw land to create timeless, comfortable, long-lasting properties. They also know him as a partner, a trusted resource as they navigate the ins and outs of the custom build process. He would probably tell you he’s both things, the product of a lifetime wandering forests, fields, mesas, mountains, meadows, and cliff sides to find the perfect view…and help clients achieve their dreams.